Price and success aren’t related

I want to comment on the accessibility, player diversity, and barrier to entry topics trending around the MMOsphere.

The idea that free-to-play MMO’s are the only way to be competitive in today’s market is inaccurate.  I laugh when I read that an MMO is going F2P to appeal to a wider audience or because of some marketing spin about letting players spend their own way — whatever SOE’s line is these days.  It’s more accurate to say that going F2P is the only way to be competitive if your game isn’t very good. That’s not to say there aren’t good F2P games, just that you will never see a successful Pay-to-Play game go free in its prime.

A subscription is only a barrier to entry if your isn’t good enough.  I agree with Syncaine that free garbage is still garbage.  If you have the best game out there, or the most popular, people are going to pay a subscription fee and that $15 isn’t going to be an issue.  GW2’s Lead Producer Chris Whiteside said it best, “The best quality MMO is going to pull customers towards it.” [Source]  Chris also brought up a good point that as more and more games go F2P, the competition will increase and new problems will arise for this business model.

GW2 charging a $60 box price with no sub is irrelevant.  WoW charging a subscription of $15 is irrelevant.  SWTOR going F2P is irrelevant.  I don’t care what any of them cost.  I care about whether or not the game is fun and worth playing.  SWTOR ultimately wasn’t worth my time, and making it free isn’t going to change the bottom line.  I never batted and eye at WoW’s $15 subscription because the game has kept me entertained with an extreme level of quality for years; The subscription was not even a factor in my decision to stop playing.  GW2’s fate lies in the game, not the price or the amount of feedback they can get from an increased number of diverse players.

People are going to play the better game, and no price, zero or otherwise, will make much difference in the end.

  • Here here! Preach on reverend Keen! May those blasphemous heathens of F2P die in a horrible fire!

    To be honest i prefer the subscription model. I like knowing my set cost is there and with this cost i get access to all things in the game and don’t have to be worried about being nickel-ed and dimed to death just to either stay competitive or enjoy the game to its fullest.

  • This is true, the game has to be fun or why bother. I honestly hate the F2P model, and in fact a friend of mine almost had me talked in to playing SWTOR with him again… and a few days later they announced F2P, no way am I ever playing that again now

  • Exactly! You could take WoW, GW2, SW:TOR, and a fistful of other games, and shuffle their pricing models into any combination imaginable. And I’d still be playing what I’m currently playing. I’m an adult with a job, a few dollars is meaningless, my leisure time is priceless. I’ll play what entertains me the most and I don’t give a damn whether it costs $15/month or $60 for a box or has a cash shop.

  • Yours and Syncaine’s is a ridiculously specious argument.

    Do you honestly and truly believe that money has NOTHING to do with moving units? None at all? That all the games you and I and everyone purchase during Steam sales were games that we were perfectly willing to buy and play at full price, and just happened to pick up at 75% off? That fundamentally the classical Economic model of Supply and Demand is wrong, that no measurable decrease would occur if CCP jacked up the EVE subscription (or simply increased the price of PLEX)? No one ever gets priced out of a market, or that there exists only a binary state of Unsub or “Pay any price” and no continuum inbetween?

    I am not suggesting that quality has nothing to do with the equation. Bad games are bad games. However, saying money isn’t a barrier to entry is simply ridiculous. Dust 514 went from $20 buy-in to F2P. Why? Are CCP morons? Or do they know they will get tens of thousands more players – whom will help get the playerbase towards a self-sustaining level of activity – for having done so? That some people who would have never given a quality game the opportunity to show its stuff given its price-point?

    Syncaine may not play SWTOR at any price. Good for him. But to suggest that that is representative of any measurable group not opposed to the game on principal is sophistry.

  • For every person who wouldn’t have given an MMO a chance at full price, there are two who already did and left or two who would have played longer if the MMO was worth it.

    Lower an MMO to free and you pick up the people who wouldn’t have paid, but you lost the people who were going to play long-term or the people paying regularly because the game wasn’t worth playing. If it was, the game wouldn’t have gone F2P. A sinking ship is a sinking ship at $15/month or $0 with a cash shop.

    These are MMO’s we’re talking about, though. Offer Batman: Arkham City for $60 or $0 and it’s a no-brainer. MMO’s make money long-term, from free and paid users, because even the free users hopefully buy something over a period of time.

    Dust 514 being a F2P game is CCP projecting they’ll make more money with that model. That has NO bearing on the game’s success. Dusty 514 may be a complete flop. Will people blame it being F2P? What if it had a box price? You see, it’s not the price but the game that matters in the end. From there we can launch into several other discussions about whether or not F2P games have a higher chance of being flops (especially when it comes to MMO’s) because of the impact the model has on the design — but that’s another topic.

    Bottom line, if your game sucks you won’t make money regardless of your business model. If your game is the best game out there players will be lining up to give you their money also regardless of your business model.

  • Totally agree Keen. Generally speaking, my time is worth more to me than my money. If your product is really good, I have no qualms at all about spending money on it. That’s just how the world works. On the other hand, considering my gaming time is becoming more and more limited these days, I’m only going to be spending it on the best games out there, regardless of price.

    I think it comes down to the issue of value, not affordability. When SWTOR made its F2P announcement the Bioware talking-head said that something like 40% of people who left the game cited the subscription as the reason. It’s not that those people couldn’t afford $15 dollars a month – they just decided that they weren’t getting their money’s worth.

    Make a product worth your customer’s money – you’ll get it.

  • Fidjit makes a very astute point about value and nailed the point on the head. It’s not that $15 isn’t affordable or even the reason why SWTOR was not a success, but the game itself wasn’t good enough — didn’t provide enough value — to be priced at $15. Furthermore, it’s not even an issue of finding a profit maximization point and declaring that the game would have done better if cheaper. The game isn’t going the succeed at any price point.

  • @Keen I have to disagree.

    While everyone agrees with the a bad game is a bad game.. lets just forget about bad or mediocre games to begin with.

    It is up to the ones that made the game to decide how they want to earn back the costs + profit.

    Sub used to be standard. There was no other choice.
    Now they can go free game + sub, retail game + sub, retail game + sub and mild cashshop, the gw2 model of buy to play + mild f2p cashshop or even completely F2P from the start.

    Say I like 2 games as much as the other and 1 is a 60$ buy to play game and the other a 50$ + 15% a month sub.
    Guess which one I will buy?

    I might even have heard of a F2P title, that I am not certain about if its fun.
    The barrier to just download it and find out is low.

    New games keep coming out, which is even more competition for that soon to be covered in dust 50$ game + 15$ sub game.

    In fact I believe that if notch charged 60$ for minecraft his success might have never got off the ground in the first place.

    Off topic: I remember your topic in your blog on hero academy and that it was fun.
    So I anxious waited for the release on steam.
    It got released…. and people on the forums are not happy.

    On Ios the game is free and extra teams cost what 1.60 euro.
    Steam base game + 1 extra tf2 team 5 euro. (thats ok HD look and all)
    5 euros for an extra team each. WTF… extra colour to pick from? another euro.

    Might pickup the basegame, but the expensive DLC no way.
    Oh and 1$ is 1euro as well…. yay.

  • @Zyler: Okay, and what if you bought that $60 and it sucked, but you would have played the $50+$15/month fee for 6 months?

    What a game costs doesn’t determine if the game is any good. Changing the price doesn’t change the game. A $60 turd smells just as bad when it’s given away.

    Diablo 3 turned out to be a bit of a flop for Diablo fans, and Blizzard even acknowledges the long-term failure. That doesn’t matter though because D3 was a one-time buy. MMO’s, on the other hand, are about generating sustainable revenue over a longer period of time (or massing enough people to buy little things). A bad MMO might sell a lot of boxes, but it won’t be a success if the game sucks and can’t sustain itself.

    I guess this can also take a bit of a philosophical turn. Can something be a monetary success yet still not succeed and being a good game? I believe so.

  • There are always different games to consider instead of 1 good game that costs 140$ for 6 months of potential play.

    But to answer your question. If it was the only good game out there and I have the need to play a good game.
    It still depends if I can afford it… If I can, then yes I would buy it.

    But one could turn your topic around “What a game costs doesn’t determine if the game is any good” and say that a good game does not have to cost a lot compared to other games.

    After all a cookie still tastes good if its 50 cents. (sounds better then a 60$ turd right? and yes I bought that 60$ D3 turd.. its so not a successor to D2)

  • I dont have a problem with subscriptions but I do have a problem with games that are content light and niche tryign to milk the customer out of cash. I know you wont believe this because we’re all MMO players used to sub fees but go around and ask on other genre forums and inevitably the #1 barrier to getting more players is the sub fee. IMO theres only room for 1 maybe 2 sub based AAA games and the rest had better find a way to go F2P less they risk the fighting of subs with WoW.

    TSW is a great example imo. A very fun game and one that should of been driven as a B2P model from the ground up.

  • The big advantage that the F2P/B2P model has is that, after your initial period of activity, you can casually load up the game whenever you want and quite often that results in subsequent extended play sessions. OTOH with a subscription game when you are over it, you are more likely to be over it permanently, since there is a much bigger barrier to reentry. Some F2P games, LOTRO for instance, now put barriers in place (you can only access some of your toons in F2P mode). IMOP that’s very unwise and will probably mean I won’t log on again.

  • The fundamental problem I see with your (and SynCaine’s) position is that you are taking a position on what is or isn’t a “good” game based on your own taste. It’s just not a very useful place to start. Games you consider “good” might be of no interest whatsoever to me, while games I love might bore you rigid.

    There isn’t and there is never going to be an objective measure of whether a video game is “good”. There’s never been one for any other form of art or entertainment. There may be a prevailing critical opinion, but even that will be transitory. This generation’s critical heroes may be the next’s clay-footed idols and forgotten entirely by the generation after that.

    About the only two relatively objective measures available to judge a commercial product by are profitability and longevity. Did it make money and does it still make money, in other words. In MMO terms, if it remains commercially available and especially if it is still adding new content (even if that content is cash shop items) then it’s a success. Whether you or I or anyone else thinks it’s “good” or not has nothing to do with it.

  • While I agree that the current crop of skinner boxes or shallow games that were built on a bubble of speculative money hoping to replicate WoWs riches without understanding the target audience at all are now grasping to recover what they can, there is an angle to F2P that Planetside 2 and Dust 514 are taking that makes sense.

    As the ‘content’ (I hate this word and it needs to purged from game design discussions) of both games (Planetside particularly, Dust has NPCs to shoot) is ultimately derived from having other players to play with, even the ‘freeloaders’ add value to the game and keep the ‘whales’ playing and paying more. Most themeparks, SWTOR being the shocking extreme example, can be played and enjoyed to the same level even if half the players on a server vanish. (On that note SWTOR even manages to makes its NPCs and Mobs seem like zombies, does the HERO engine not even support walking macros?)
    Anyone who remembers how lonely the original Planetside became and how this hugely damaged the game, can see the logic with Planetside 2. Whether the Whales in PS2 buy enough is another matter, but it looks promising.

    I tried SWTOR when it had its 1-15 trial because it was free, but realised that it being free wasn’t sufficient. The game is awful, the cut scenes have groaning dialogue and a laughable animation engine to work with; Mass Effect it isn’t. The combat (IE the only gameplay in themeparks) is dull and lifeless, even it is stolen from WoW, I don’t know how much Bioware should be blamed for this, but if a StarWars title didn’t call for a more action-based combat, I don’t enough what does. (EQ had a similar style for technical reasons, in 1999…) Though many people like WoWs combat, so perhaps not an issue for the games viability.
    Its art style is atrocious, I had seen screenshots and thought it was alright. Environments seem washed-out and dull, textures, even on the highest settings are woeful. The ‘cities’ are dead; NPCs, the few there are, stand perfectly still and it feels overall very boxed-in and as though I am one of the survivors of an apocalypse.
    It ultimately feels like a mechanical distillation of WoW (Itself a distillation of a distillation, I don’t think you can get more shallow) with no joy or pride. Thus ignoring the layers designed to hide the brutal mechanics at work, leaving the shallowness on full display.

    Apologies for the post becoming a minor review of SWTOR.

  • There are many Free to Play games that I have tried and dropped like hotcakes, because the old saying, “Nothing is free” is correct. I had played LOTRO for example at launch and then came back after it went free to play and easily spent more money in a months time than I had all the time I paid monthly fee prior to fully enjoy the game.

    As far as SWTOR, Star Trek Online, Fallen Earth and others that have went Free to Play, while I purchased the full game of each of those prior to them going free to play, the game play in each told me that even free I don’t want to play them.

    Price doesn’t equal quality I can say that much though. I have a ton of high priced games and a ton of low price Indie games on my system and guess which ones I play the most? The Indie games.

    I am getting off topic here I know but one of the things that has really been eating at me a lot lately is how you can get games like Dragon Age 2 that have millions and millions spent on them and cost you $60 not counting DLC and yet for the same price I am about to get 4-5 very good indie games.

    Almost all of my disposable income goes to gaming. The last steam sale I spent a few hundred dollars. Of that money so far the games that I have enjoyed the most have been games that were not $60 so called blockbusters to start with. Honestly I am trying to tell myself that next year I am going to only by Indie games or games after they go on a 50% off steam sale.

    That said I hope to still be playing Mechwarrior Online and Guild Wars 2 mostly next year and catching up on about two years worth of Steam backlog. 😉

  • I agree that the individual opinion represents only their own taste but to that individual it is the only opinion that really matters and determines where the time and money of that individual will go. This is of course provided the money is not a barrier which, it appears for most, it isn’t.

    If I am the only one that found a game wasn’t good enough then it will be a great success for years to come unaffected by the payment model or payment model changes or the opinions of individuals that remain insignificant in number. These games will make money and hold onto players but it is quite clear there have been a lot of MMOs recently that are not profitable and, for large chunks of the player base, lack the longevity we hoped for.

    I’m yet to read a blog posts reasoning why a game has not been given a fair shot by the player base because it’s too expensive for players to try.

  • I’ve spent $1200 to play WoW, $600 to play LotRO, $300 to play Rift, $150 to play TOR. Plot the points on a graph and draw a curve. I don’t think the industry as a whole is much different.

  • A $180 a year + box is relevant. You can rant from the top of your soapbox all you want, but if I get the same enjoyment from a low-cost game as a high-cost game, I’m gonna migrate. But even if the high-cost game is better, it has to be,on an emotional impact level, THREE GAMES BETTER.

    Three games being what it would cost me to buy three AAA (or specialty scratch my particular gaming itch) titles that could give me hundreds of hours of enjoyment.

    So, using myself as a case in point, I’ve MMO subbed for 3 months of the past 12. I’ve saved $135. With that money, I bought Skyrim in November ($60) (136 hours), Mount & Blade Collection (Warband 331 hours; M&B Plain (138 hours)($30) in January, Total War:Rome Gold Edition (58 hours)In June ($20).

    I’m having as much fun as playing any MMO, and more fun than many, with those three games.

    Plus I’ve played a number of F2P MMOs that were just as good (if not better) as any subscription MMO on the market. They may not be pulling in the millions of subs, but EQ2 is still a solid MMO even under Sony’s gimping. LOTRO is still a solid MMO (and since it’s the one I quit, it’s all unlocked anyway because I earned/bought like 18,000 TPs in my years of playing and subbing…) DDO is fun and the challenge of ‘beating the system’ and earning your way to full account unlock is great meta-gaming.

  • Angry Birds at $60— laughable
    Angry Birds at $.99— developer is a millionaire. Price and success are related. I play many games that I deeply enjoy that I wouldn’t pay $60 for. Sometimes the cost of entry makes it too risky.

    The reality is that WoW is an anomaly. No other MMO has ever come anywhere close to WoW, at least in the Western hemisphere. IIRC the subscription model doesn’t have a major foothold in Asia. Everyone other sub based MMO might be doing 500,000 accounts if they are lucky. EQ at its peak was around 500,000. That was true before WoW and it’s true after it. Comparing everything to WoW’s success is like asking why all the other romance movies didn’t do as well as Titanic. It’s unrealistic to expect that level of performance from an MMO, just as it’s unrealistic to expect every movie to do as well as Titanic. For the rest of the MMO world, F2P apparently generates better return on investment. It’s not even necessarily that you have to do it to avoid shutting the doors; it just makes you more money. EVE Online is considered a success, but it’s below where Everquest was in 2003. It’s a cult hit at best. F2P brings in a lot of people and apparently makes the game substantially more profitable. When it comes to that decision I’ll trust the business people whose asses are on the line over Keen.

    Expecting someone to release an MMO that is more polished and well designed than an MMO on its 4th or 5th expansion is absurd. When people start bailing by the hundreds of thousands within a few months, these new MMOs don’t really have shot.

    Basically the upshot is the MMO genre is a niche that temporarily went big. Like CB radio in the 80s, it’s heading back to niche status. The upside for you all is that once that happens people will stop trying to make games that appeal to casual players and start designing games for the for you guys again.

  • @Keen says:

    August 10, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    What a game costs doesn’t determine if the game is any good. Changing the price doesn’t change the game. A $60 turd smells just as bad when it’s given away.

    Two things:

    First, marginal utility is ignored in your position.

    Second, your amygdala says you’re full of it despite your binary intellectual position. This tiny part of your brain measures both the happiness you achieve from acquisition and the pain of the separation of cash and opportunity loss of other things you could have acquired with the money.

    Each is a different circuit in the amygdala and people who are out-of-balance in the relative strengths of these circuits usually have strong money issues. Too much pain in the pain/pleasure system in purchasing and it’s hard to spend a nickel. We call these people cheapskates and misers. Too much pleasure in the pain/pleasure cycle and we have spendthrifts and wastrels.

    But, back to presumably ‘normal’ people, we can look at marginal cost and marginal utility to see how these concepts interact with the informal emotional measurement of the amygdala. If amygdala decides (retroactively) the game had +$20 in purchase Joy and -$60 purchase pain, you’re gonna feel it. BUT, if it’s F2P and your (retroactive) purchase Joy is +$20 and your cost in the cash shop cost is -$10.. You’re good to go and everyone has won:

    You got a deal. Somebody earned $10 they wouldn’t have.

  • I think that is a little too black and white. For a game as high quality as WoW or Eve it is 100% correct. But for games that are pretty good to mediocre the pricing model can have an effect

  • The exemple of Minecraft is really an excellent one. This is a very good game, that nealy create a new genre.
    I bought it at 15$ just before going into beta for 20$ (or something like this). I would never have bought it for 60$. Even with the information I have know of this game, I do not think I would bought it at this price. But I will be thinking about it.
    If it has been sold with a monthly fee (“have access to Multiplayer server of your choice ! You can create multiple character ! And have guilds !”) I would not even consider buying it.
    I think he has more than triple his number of buyer with this low price. That was a intelligent move for him.

    Why ? It is linked to my time to play. I am a small player, I play aroung 5 to 10 hours a week. For exemple, last week I do not play at all. So for me, the sub model is just out of my mind : I don’t know when I will play a game.
    The second problem (the main one ?) is psychological. I do not own a game with Sub model. I have the impression to rent it. And I hate to rent things.

    One really interesting information would be to know what is the benefice timing for MMO. I think – but I may be completely wrong – that developer gain 70% of their revenue at the buying (box price + 3 first month) and 30% of long time player, during the whole lifetime of a game (exceptions is EVE).

    A not reliable source of statistic is my friends and colleagues : 30-40% of them play games, only 20% on PC. In this 20% only 2% play MMO. They have played at maximum one year. Targetting MMO veteran (play a MMO for more than 1 year) and you target a niche : that could be a good niche if there is not a lot of concurrence, but you make a lot of bigger profit if you target the mainstream – in my example 1 year of Mainstream = 10 years of Veteran !

  • So according to your line of reasoning, Rift is an amazing game since it’s managed to sustain its payment model. And SWTOR is a turd.
    Curiously, you bashed Rift endlessly and praised SWTOR.